Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Typographer’s Dream—Portland Center Stage—NW Portland

The Measure of a Man

This comedy by Adam Bock is directed by Rose Riordan.  It is playing at their space at 128 NW 11th Ave., in the Pearl District, through November 16th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-445-3700.

After you first meet somebody at a social gathering, what is typically one of the first things you ask them?  “What do you do,” right?  And if I were to answer them literally, I might say, “I’m write plays…I like to take long walks on the beach…I enjoy listening to Classical music…et. al.”  And they would probably look at me with a blank stare, then repeat the question.  What they meant was, what do you do for a living?  But, candidly, is that who we really are, our jobs?

At its heart, that is what this play is examining, I believe.  What makes us who we are?  And it is seen through the eyes of three analytical people.  There is Dave (Kelsey Tyler), the Stenographer or Court Reporter, who has had to learn how to communicate in another language altogether, via his abbreviated typing machine.  There is no room for error in his job.  He is a witness to events and the “he said, she said” dialogues that he transcribes must be accurate, as it is real lives and events that are being exposed and examined.  Only problem is that Dave has forgotten who he is, as he never uses the word “I” when talking with others.  His personal world has been swallowed up into his work world.

Annalise (Laura Faye Smith) is totally absorbed or, maybe obsessed, with her job, a Geographer, or decoder of maps.  She seems to understand the nature of boundaries and how their arbitrary placements on the Earth have major ramifications with people, cultures, livelihoods, etc.  She illustrates how Nature intended the world to be and the complications humans have imposed on it.  An eagle, flying overhead, does not see lines drawn in the sand, or borders.  He sees the whole forest, not just the trees.  And the early Native Americans did not understand how one can own land, as it is for everyone to share, as we are the caretakers of Mother Earth.  Simple, smart lessons we seem to have forgotten.

Margaret (Sharonlee McLean), the Typographer, a type of graphic writing, seems intrigued but somewhat frightened by her job.  It is the ability to makes things stand out in written form or become buried, depending on how you set the type/page.  A truth can become a lie, or a lie, the truth, depending on how one arranges things on a page.  It is a scary thought and could make one feel like a conspirator, or one that is conspired against.  The strength of the pen, the written word, can truly be more powerful than the sword.

These three people and the jobs they inhabit are the focal point for the story.  In truth, it is a sad story, told by sad but funny people.  They can laugh through their tears.  Somewhere the real human, their personal worth, has gotten lost in their job descriptions.  It is interesting to note that children have no “job descriptions.”  Their purpose is to play, to enjoy, to explore and discover.  And then, we get older and leave all that behind.  But, like these three characters, we may have lost something important in that transition.  The measure of a person may just be in finding that lost child again, within ourselves.

Riordan has presented this show much like a Stage Reading, except they don’t use scripts, and it works well on that level.  Except for some visual aids, it is pretty much dependant on the cast to carry the show.  And she has chosen her cast well.  McLean is wonderful as the less chatty of the trio, tending to brood more, and seemingly quite troubled by her plight, as a purveyor of possible lies.  Smith is certainly verbose and can be maniacal at time, which is both funny and scary.  A complex character and well presented.  Tyler as the man who seems to struggle most with who he is, allows us to see the confidence slowly slip away, as he becomes more questioning of who he is and, thus, more vulnerable and human.  Good job by him and the other two ladies.

I recommend this show.  If you do go to see it, please tell them that Dennis sent you.

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